This apocalyptic vision set in the late 1960s chronicles the final days of Dr. Robert Morgan (Vincent Price) on earth as he fights off vampire-like zombies which are taking over everywhere. He equips his home with garlic and mirrors and dispatches all his many intruders with long stakes which he drives right through their vicious black hearts. He then covers the reanimated corpses with gasoline and burns them in landfills around the city. The zombies naturally have dark circles around the eyes, sallow faces and silver-gray hair. A work associate from his laboratory, The Mercer Institute of Chemical Research, Ben (Giacomo Rossi-Stuart), conjectures the cause of the vampiric outbreak might be an airborne virus but the theory is rejected by Morgan.
This film obviously was an influence on George A. Romero and the people who gave us NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968). Another interesting note regarding this production is how pains have been taken to make the story appear to be set in America rather than Italy. The Italians always thought the British (especially) and the Americans were the only experts at horror cinema having no faith in their own domestic product. This changed of course in the Seventies when the films of Dario Argento swept the cinematic planet with his bravura SUSPIRIA.
Directors Ubaldo Ragona and Sidney Salkow helmed this effort. Salkow had been Price's agent but had directed a great deal of television ("The Addams Family" and "77 Sunset Strip" series) and quite an extensive number of westerns. Salkow had directed Price the previous year in TWICE TOLD TALES (1963). Ragona, on the other hand, had a mere three other films to his credit. No doubt this co-production was financed on the strength of Italians and Americans working together on the same feature, irrespective of who really did the work.
The star of this production is unquestionably the screenplay by Richard Matheson, the writer who could do no wrong whatsoever. This opus was based upon his novel "I Am Legend" which would be adapted a few other times (THE OMEGA MAN comes to mind). Matheson was responsible for scripting a record number of unforgettable genre hits which include INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN (1957), HOUSE OF USHER (1960), PIT AND THE PENDULUM (1961), BURN WITCH BURN! (1962), TALES OF TERROR (1962), THE RAVEN (1963), COMEDY OF TERRORS (1964), THE DEVIL RIDES OUT (Hammer Films, 1968), LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE (1973), teleplays for BRAM STOKER'S DRACULA (1973 with Jack Palance) and TRILOGY OF TERROR (1973). Matheson also scripted sixteen immortal episodes from Rod Serling's original TWILIGHT ZONE series. For years Matheson disavowed this version of his novel until recently. Time has been kind to LAST MAN and it remains the definitive version of his novel as THE OMEGA MAN misses that mark altogether.
Price loved Italy and was required by contract to make a couple of films there. He was also collecting art on the side so he was quite happy to be in the country which itself is a cradle of art.
The charismatic Giacomo Rossi-Stuart is a sympathetic character in this one. Rossi-Stuart passed away in 1994 and had an impressive list of credits, non-genre and otherwise. He had performed in such films as DEATH SMILES ON A MURDERER (1972), THE NIGHT EVELYN CAME OUT OF THE GRAVE (1971), and SOMETHING CREEPING IN THE DARK (also 1971). He had also appeared in three films by Mario Bava: KILL, BABY, KILL! (1966), KNIVES OF THE AVENGER (1966) and even had a small role in CALTIKI THE IMMORTAL MONSTER (1959). The actor also graced many spaghetti westerns plus Rossi-Stuart gave an interesting portrayal in the megabuck Italian spectacle SODOM AND GOMORRAH (1962) by Robert Aldrich.
Franca Bettoja appeared previously in LION OF ST. MARK (1967) with Gordon Scott and ATTACK OF THE NORMANS (1962) with Cameron Mitchell and Paul Muller.
LAST MAN ON EARTH was shot in CinemaScope with a 2.35:1 aspect ratio which is perfectly presented here (although the transfer is believed to be culled from the out-of-print Image laserdisc release). The stark black and white cinematography by Tonino Delli Colli captures the ethereal desolation of Roman neighborhoods, streets and avenues. Picture and sound quality are outstanding. The film's duration is approximately 87 minutes and there are 14 chapter stops.
Extras on this disc include the following: a selection of very ragged trailers from THE GIANT GILA MONSTER, I BURY THE LIVING, THE KILLER SHREWS and KILLERS FROM SPACE. There is a single shot poster gallery displaying the one-sheet poster from American-International Pictures. A bio of Price is limited to one brief paragraph. There is a nifty and amusing quiz, though, regarding details of the film. Whenever the true or false question is answered correctly, our Vinnie is seen having breakfast with his wife in a clip from the film! When the question is answered incorrectly, our hero is impaled by vampire zombies with a spear! There are only five questions, so spare Vinnie from getting speared!
This reviewer commends Madacy Entertainment Group for their first-rate presentation of this Sixties Vincent Price classic at a modest price ($5.99 retail). (Christopher Dietrich)
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